By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and Joshua D. Safer, MD, FACP
January 31, 2019
Doctors and Rabbis are asked a lot of questions; it’s a big part of the job. We certainly don’t have all of the answers and so we continue to listen, research, and expand our understanding of the issues. And, we have our own questions to help us get closer to the information that shapes our responses to the people who are asking for guidance. There can be no contradiction between science and religion when they both manifest the truth of the Divine intention. The struggle for that knowledge, and its application, is an ongoing and humbling process.
However, there are still many in both the medical and the Jewish communities who don’t yet understand gender identity and transgender experiences. They insist: “It can’t be that G-d put someone in the wrong body. G-d doesn’t make mistakes. It’s sacrilegious to change the body that G-d gave you,” and so on. No one would say this about a heart defect, deviated septum, or inflamed appendix – in part because the Torah teaches us in this week’s portion: “ורפא ירפא ” and be healed. The Talmud explains that this is the scriptural permission given to physicians offering treatment to change something that G-d has created.
Similarly, the wicked Turnus Rufus asked of Rabbi Akiva: If your G-d is a lover of the poor, why then does G-d not provide for them? R’ Akiva argues that the inequality experienced by many in this world doesn’t exist for us to sustain, but rather for us to change. G-d presents inequality as an opportunity for us to be in partnership, to heal the divide and emulate the Divine by supporting others.
Turnus Rufus replies that by changing the differential that G-d constructed, we are going against the Divine will and angering G-d. In response, R’ Akivah shares an interesting parable: To what is this similar? It is analogous to a king who, angry with his child, confines them to prison and orders that no one give them anything to eat or drink. Someone then disobeys and provides for the child’s needs and when the king hears about it, the king sends the person gifts in thankful recognition. R’ Akivah continues: We are all that child to G-d. When we improve the lives of those who are suffering, it brings pleasure and joy to G-d.
G-d, as our parent, wants us to support each other and make sure that we are all provided for.
We demonstrate to G-d that we see ourselves as G-d’s children when we take care of humanity as we would our immediate family. As a society, we have a responsibility to meet the needs of all, including our transgender siblings. We must make resources available, including all of the resources of modern medicine, whenever needed. It is not only permitted to provide transgender medical procedures, but we are obligated to do so when necessary.